Fire Investigators Anonymous

Michael L. Donahue outlines a 12-step program for improving the health and safety of fire investigators working amid potential hazards. The safety and health of fire investigators working at fire scenes are often taken for granted, since many incorrectly...


Michael L. Donahue outlines a 12-step program for improving the health and safety of fire investigators working amid potential hazards. The safety and health of fire investigators working at fire scenes are often taken for granted, since many incorrectly assume that by the time they arrive at a...


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6. Be ready to change your behavior. All personnel throughout the organization must adopt and embrace a proper "safety mindset" and use it all times for all investigative activities. Investigators must remain alert and open minded, and not only talk about safety, but practice it. Investigators should approach all situations with the "SWAT mentality": constantly train and plan for the worst, but hope for the best possible outcome. A little fear can be a good thing when encountering a potentially high-risk situation. Fire scenes can be hazardous to one's safety and health. A few extra minutes spent evaluating hazards and planning your actions can often make the difference between a safe operation and a disaster. Respect all situations that you are faced with and always weigh the potential risks before committing yourself to a course of action.

7. Assess shortcomings and deficiencies. Organizations should continually evaluate their safety polices, standard operating procedures (SOPs), training and education programs, technology, equipment and resources. This is helpful to determine readiness based on the mission of the organization and the tasks to be performed by investigators. Organizations should reach out to others for information and assistance and remain current and conversant in safety and health standards and regulations. Post-incident analyses and critiques can be effective tools to identify weaknesses and deficiencies in existing programs, procedures or equipment so that corrective measures can be implemented. Management should avoid tunnel vision and solicit input from all affected personnel in the organization to get a "buy in" to the safety and health program.

8. Make a list (and check it twice). Investigators should list all of the potential safety and health hazards, risks and safety violations associated with their jobs that may cause harm to themselves or others. This list helps to heighten awareness and recognition of the potential impact of these hazards and risks beyond the immediate workplace. This "reality check" forces personnel to ask themselves, "Is my ignorance and disregard for my personal safety and health really worth it?" Investigators should always be risk evaluators and not risk takers. Sometimes, the hardest lessons are the easiest to learn from.

9. Acknowledge potential harm. Investigators should not be afraid or reluctant to share their safety and health "war" stories with others, including management. Personnel should verbalize or submit in writing details about an incident that has potential safety and/or health implications. Investigators should always ask themselves, "Is my job worth dying for?" This information exchange may help prevent injuries and illnesses to others. Acknowledging that there is a problem is an important first step in implementing a solution.

10. Institute a means for a personal inventory. Investigators must continuously evaluate their actions, behaviors and attitudes to promptly identify problems and correct deviations from policies and SOPs that could spell trouble from a safety and health standpoint. All personnel in the organization must take the safety pledge, accept responsibility and be accountable for their actions.

11. Continue to train and educate yourself. Personnel should take advantage of all available training and education opportunities. Investigators should operate in an environment where management reinforces and rewards positive safety behaviors and punishes negative (unsafe) behaviors that may jeopardize someone's overall safety and well-being. Investigators must adopt the mindset that, "If I cannot perform this task or operation safely based on my level of knowledge, training and education, then I will not perform it." Personnel should always rely on and listen to their "sixth sense" - if it feels wrong, it probably is wrong.

12. Be willing to help others. Investigators should not be selfish with their newfound knowledge and abilities. All members of an organization should be "safety messengers" and preach the value of safety and health at any available opportunity and venue. All investigators should embrace a goal and a vision for a safer and healthier future for their profession. No one should underestimate his or her ability to make a difference. Our common health and welfare is based on a commitment and unity of the fire investigation profession as a whole. Only you are ultimately responsible for your safety and health.

Summary

Fire investigators must remain vigilant in the recognition and identification of all potential safety and health hazards and should take the necessary time and steps to identify, evaluate and mitigate them at all fire scenes. Engineering controls, work practices and PPE should also be used where feasible to ensure the safety of all personnel. The scene should continually be reassessed to evaluate safety and/or health hazards and risks that may change due to fire conditions, suppression efforts, overhaul activities or lapses in time.